Is there anything more satisfying than watching sneaky, self-serving Don Draper prostrate himself in front of the company he wronged (even if they kind of wronged him in return) for about 35 of the 48 minutes of this week’s episode of “Mad Men”? What if he crawls back groveling to his wayward West Coast wife, too?
The only thing that could possibly spoil Draper’s descent into self-sacrificing redemption is the fact that everyone in this episode behaved like such an ass that you actually start feeling sorry for the poor sap.
“Field Trip” was an alarmingly uncomfortable 48 minutes to watch. However, three episodes into the final season, we finally see the characters pick up pace. The subplots feel worth following, and Don, who has been a relative shell of the character we’ve seen develop over the past six seasons, has momentum once again. “Field Trip” very well may be the peak of the first half of season seven, and we’re finally paying attention.
The episode opens with a conversation between Don and Megan’s agent Alan Silver, who informs him that she hasn’t been taking Hollywood’s rejection with stride. In fact, he calls her a “lunatic.” She begged for a second audition following an “adequate” one — and then showed up, in tears, at the director’s private lunch with Rod Serling, asking once again. “She met Rod Serling?” Don asks with mild interest. Silver presses on, “They lose their confidence... It’s best we nip this in the bud.” Don seems confused. “What am I supposed to do?” “You know her better than I do,” says Silver. “You have to tell her to relax.”
So Don flies out to California to surprise his wife. He says, “You have to stop behaving like such a lunatic.” This goes over poorly. (Side note: Alan’s probably getting fired.) They fight. She accuses him of cheating. (“I was your secretary, remember? I know what you’re like when you’re left alone.” BOOM.) He comes clean and admits that he’s on leave from work. It’s a nice moment, seeing Don be the honest guy for once. He clearly thought he was being a good husband by keeping her from knowing — or at least, that’s what he says — plus, he’s been monitoring his drinking! But Megan stands her ground: “So with a clear head, you got up and decided that you didn’t want to be with me?” Ah, Megan, now that’s the kind of logic you can’t wipe clean.
Don calls Megan later in the episode to apologize again. “‘I fixed it’ would mean you got a job out here,” she says. Megan may be the strongest female character on this show. Sadly, this may also be the last time we see her. Ain’t that the way.
Betty is back — and still awful.
Good god. Why do we even care about Betty Francis anymore? If she is not one of the most insufferable characters on television, we’re not sure who is. Betty debuts this season at lunch with her former neighbor/frenemy Francine, aspiring luxury travel agent. She can barely hold it together when Francine discloses her new life as a career girl. Betty insists that motherhood is enough of a challenge — her life has substance, too, gosh darnit! — and thoroughly implements this belief by uncharacteristically volunteering to be Bobby’s chaperone on his class field trip to a farm.
While Betty’s ice queen antics — crude comments on the teacher’s lack of a bra — are mildly off-putting, she gives a rare glimpse of good behavior when she takes a swig of fresh cow’s milk from the pail in the barn. It’s a sight to be seen. Bobby watches proudly as his mother informs the class that it tastes “sweet,” and then tells off another boy for attempting to sit at their picnic blanket during lunch. “That’s my mom’s place.” Cute.
Betty and Bobby’s wonderful day takes a turn for the worse when he admits that he’s traded her sandwich for a bag of gumdrops from another little girl in his class, who apparently didn’t have a proper lunch of her own. Betty shows no pity for the sandwich-less little girl and instead is furious at Bobby. She tells him to eat his gumdrops while she chain smokes and glares, continuing this erratically cold behavior through the evening. Bobby will never eat gumdrops again.
Don has a job again — and no one is happy about it.
The most painfully awkward portion of the episode would be Don Draper sitting at SC&P’s creative department’s staff table waiting for Roger Sterling. Following a meeting with competing agency Wells Rich Greene, that ends with what we’re led to believe is a job offer (and we think, a prostitute?), Don rampages Roger’s home/harem, demanding answers.
“I called you on Christmas,” says Roger. “Why would I want to talk to you when you fired me? I got the message, ‘Merry Christmas, love Judas.’” This is a great dynamic.
Roger tells Don to come back — and he nervously obliges. The reactions of the staff are mixed. Cosgrove — happy. Ginsberg — happy, at least to his face. Dawn — happy-ish. Peggy — not happy. Lou — definitely not happy. Even Joan is surprisingly cold — “Well, it was nice seeing you,” she says, a clear dismissal — and the rest of the partners are equally alarmed by his return.
While Roger shows up late, he doesn’t fail his friend. He argues that Don is a partner, and firing him, meaning buying back his partnership, would be a financial hit that would dramatically hurt the firm. Don is reinstated, with a few painful stipulations (he answers to Lou, he sticks to the script, he will not drink, violations will strip him of his partnership), but he takes his bitter pill and swallows. He’s back.
Also worth mentioning:
— What is up with Harry Crane?: After lying to a client about a super computer that is somehow relevant his department, he shrugs off Cutler who has tipped off the Wall Street Journal about this miraculous accumulation of technology. This does not go over well. “You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I have ever worked with,” he says. This does not faze Harry in the least. Perhaps that’s because he knows it can’t be true.
— Lou Avery is just awful: Remember five minutes ago when we told you Betty Draper is one of the most insufferable characters on television? That’s six seasons in the making. Three episodes in and Lou is proving to be a stiff competitor. Peggy’s campaign for Chevalier Noir is diminished by Lou who demands to know why Stan has drawn art. “You understand every hour he works costs money?” It’s not like Stan’s sitting right there, or anything — oh, wait. He is.Rachel Raczka can be reached at email@example.com and tweeted @rachelraczka.